Cone cells, or cones, are one of the two types of photoreceptor cells that are in the retina of the eye which are responsible for color vision as well as eye color sensitivity; they function best in relatively bright light, as opposed to rod cells that work better in dim light. Cone cells are densely packed in the fovea centralis a 0.3 mm diameter rod-free area with very thin, densely packed cones, but quickly reduce in number towards the periphery of the retina. There are about six to seven million cones in a human eye and are most concentrated towards the macula.
Cones are less sensitive to light than the rod cells in the retina (which support vision at low light levels), but allowthe perception of colour. They are also able to perceive finer detail and more rapid changes in images, because their response times to stimuli are faster than those of rods. As opposed to rods, cones consist one of the three types of pigment namely: S-cones (absorbs blue), M-cones (absorbs green) and L-cones (absorbs red). Each cone is therefore sensitive to visible wavelengths of light that correspond to red (long-wavelength), green (medium-wavelength), or blue (short-wavelength) light.Because humans usually have three kinds of cones with differentphotopsins, which have different response curves and thus respond to variation in colour in different ways, we have trichromatic vision. Being colour blind can change this, and there have been some unverified reports of people with four or more types of cones, giving them tetrachromatic vision.Destruction to the cone cells from disease would result in blindness.
Cone cells are somewhat shorter than rods, but wider and tapered, and are much less numerous than rods in most parts of the retina, but greatly outnumber rods in the fovea. Structurally, cone cells have a cone-like shape at one end where a pigment filters incoming light, giving them their different response curves. They are typically 40–50 µm long, and their diameter varies from 0.5 to 4.0 µm, being smallest and most tightly packed at the center of the eye at the fovea. The S cones are a little larger than the others.
Photobleaching can be used to determine cone arrangement. This is done by exposing dark-adapted retina to a certain wavelength of light that paralyzes the particular type of cone sensitive to that wavelength for up to thirty minutes from being able to dark-adapt making it appear white in contrast to the grey dark-adapted cones when a picture of the retina is taken. The results illustrate that S cones are randomly placed and appear much less frequently than the M and L cones. The ratio of M and L cones varies greatly among different people with regular vision (e.g. values of 75.8% L with 20.0% M versus 50.6% L with 44.2% M in two male subjects).
Like rods, each cone cell has a synaptic terminal, an inner segment, and an outer segment as well as an interior nucleus and various mitochondria. The synaptic terminal forms a synapse with a neuron such as a bipolar cell. The inner and outer segments are connected by a cilium.The inner segment contains organelles and the cell's nucleus, while the outer segment, which is pointed toward the back of the eye, contains the light-absorbing materials.
Like rods, the outer segments of cones have invaginations of their cell membranes that create stacks of membranous disks. Photopigments exist as transmembrane proteins within these disks, which provide more surface area for light to affect the pigments. In cones, these disks are attached to the outer membrane, whereas they are pinched off and exist separately in rods. Neither rods nor cones divide, but their membranous disks wear out and are worn off at the end of the outer segment, to be consumed and recycled by phagocytic cells.
The response of cone cells to light is also directionally nonuniform, peaking at a direction that receives light from the center of the pupil; this effect is known as the Stiles–Crawford effect.